The History Of Tiramisu, The Classic Italian Dessert
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Sponge cake and savoiardi (or ladyfingers) layered with mascarpone, doused with espresso and dusted with cocoa powder make tiramisu. Tiramisu, which means ‘pick me up’, comes from the Treviso dialect, ‘tireme su’. It was modified to tiramisu in the 20th century, but the dessert itself originated in Treviso in Italy in 1800. 

It is believed that tiramisu was created as an aphrodisiac by an astute mistress who belonged to a brothel in Treviso. The mistress offered it to her customers, who might have had matrimonial problems with their wives, to rejuvenate them. And so, tiramisu was treated like natural viagra in the 19th century. However, food historians have debated this theory. 

Another story goes that an old inn in the centre of Treviso, which came to be known as Le Beccherie restaurant, added the dessert to its menu in the 1970s. The restaurant was run by the Campeol family from 1939 until 2014. 

Tiramisu has not been mentioned in written records until the 1980s and was only added to restaurant menus around the world much later. This is because its origins were supposedly linked to a brothel, and this needed to be hidden. The recipe for tiramisu has evolved from ‘sbatudin’, which is a mixture of egg yolks and sugar (sbatudin was used by farmers in Treviso as a restorative for newly-weds). 

In Friuli Venezia Giulia, a mountainous region in Italy that borders Austria and Slovenia, a handwritten recipe for tiramisu has been found from 1959. The recipe was written by Norma Pielli, the chef at the Albergo Roma hotel in Tolmezzo. Locals say that the chef served the dish to hikers looking for food, and that one of the hikers gave the dish its name. Contrary to popular belief, no alcohol was used in any of these early versions of tiramisu.

Le Beccherie has been widely accepted as the place of the inception of tiramisu, but the Italian government decided that tiramisu was a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (a label that is used for traditional regional specialities, similar to Protected Geographical Indication) of Friuli in 2017. The Venetians protested this. 

In 1985, tiramisu made its way onto menus in the US and in Paris in 1987. The dish became popular in the UK when chef and TV presenter Nigella Lawson called it the ‘black forest gateau of the 1990s’ in her book ‘How to Eat’. 

The New York Times wrote about tiramisu in 1985, estimating that over 200 variations of the dessert existed. The Tiramisu World Cup, which is hosted in Italy, allows participants to compete under two categories: ‘original recipe’ and ‘creative recipe’. The latter encourages using three other ingredients along with mascarpone, eggs, coffee and cocoa. Contestants have experimented with cinnamon, ginger, matcha, pineapple and even chilli. 

Italians, however, are passionate about protecting the traditional recipe. They can’t be blamed, of course, considering the fact that tiramisu is now iconic and representative of Italian food culture.